Friday, November 22, 2013

I LEED A QUESTION


There are three ways of motivating people to think LEED (that I know of). First is the enforcement type, the municipality adopts private standards, like LEED, into their building codes by specific incorporation—“compliance shall be what LEED requires.” There is at least one municipality that I know of adopted this approach, but the problem here is constitutional: the public governance is essentially handing over legislative power to the private sector since the private sector is responsible for updating the standards; but what happened to the voting process and public accountability if this is going to be the LAW?

Second is the not-so-lazy-man approach: adopt some LEED standards in substance into the building codes but no specific incorporation-[of LEED]-by-reference (the paint must meet this low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) level to be in compliance and that level just happen to be the LEED standard. So by complying with the law, you are getting LEED credits, two birds with one stone—that’s if you documented it in the first place). Some places in California adopted this approach if I remember correctly. However, the problem here is that the private sector is then subject to the slow pace of public consensus—if we learn new knowledge about best practices, we have to wait for politicians to come together to get us there in terms of law making. We all know how much politicians like to work together and get things done.

Cincinnati adopted a third approach—tax rebates—the “let’s just give them money” method. If you build a Platinum LEED building, the city of Cincinnati will not collect city property tax from you for up to 15 years with no upper limit on amount. This means you can build a new million dollar home taxed at 2.2% tax on average, but you do not pay a dime for 15 years if your house is LEED Platinum. That's roughly $330,000 you avoid paying the government. (Well, technically if you don't build the home, the government doesn't collect taxes anyway, so it wouldn't make the money regardless.) With it being only a city tax incentive, it controls the urban sprawl problem to a degree. LEED also considers remodeling 50% or more of an existing building a new construction so you can get the tax credit even if you don't build new buildings. This will be added incentive to revitalize old neighborhoods. But as your average consumers consider a somewhat updated home, there is not much incentive to incorporate LEED standards at a higher cost. The tax credit is a good thing in my opinion, but it doesn't go far enough to get people to really look at LEED on a scale.

But these approaches are all about extrinsic motivations.
So I LEED this question to you:

It is not enough to do, what will make us want to do better?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Forward Compatibility – Talking Pass One Another

(I wrote this one a while ago and felt I should resurface it. It's a companion piece to this one: On Language and Games – the Wittgensteinian Fly From a Bottle. Cheers)

___________________________________________________________________

During the final stages of reviewing my article on China, its sustainable urgency, and its formative free speech needs, and until now, I constantly worry about the meaning lost in the linear mindset that people often bring to the analytical table. The story of my life: getting lost on a straight road because I walk in circles, and I am never to be found again.
Here’s the problem: I believe there is an ontological gap between the east and the west and this gap manifests itself in many different ways. The most obvious is in language—the meaning and intent problem—what precisely is meant not well understood, and what is intended are completely incompatible at times. Between China and its western observers, there often exists an animosity precisely because we failed to understand each other and discrepancies are explained as errors. In terms of sustainability, there can be no greater debauchery than stopping progress for the sake of debating who is right and who is wrong and who should correct their errors. But does it really matter that we come from different places? Or is it the “forward compatibility” more important.
 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Keys to a Sucessful LEED Building: Communication, Documentation, and a Concrete Vision - by Lauren Campbell Kong

After being in Cincinnati a few months, I finally found a group of individuals at Lohre & Associate who shares my passion for green buildings and marketing. Meeting people like this is difficult and when Mr. Lohre offered me an internship and would pay pay for my LEED AP exam, I was even more excited.

The internship involves working on a LEED project, something that I have wanted to do for over a year and something that wasn’t available to me in Indiana. The experience of working on an actual project is needed to take the LEED AP exam and all the nuances I am learning are immensely valuable. The project is hoping to get certified for LEED gold status and with that comes serious documentation of all aspects of construction. The project involves a major renovation and under LEED standards it is labeled as new construction. This means that everything from what type of dry-wall was used to what kind of paint was put on the dry wall, to what kind of grout and caulk was use to seal it tight must be documented. Needless to say, getting deep into the details of a LEED project is similar to delving into a crime mystery looking for clues or searching through a massive academic database for a specific research paper. It is right up my alley.

Friday, November 8, 2013

I Pledge Allegiance to My Trash


Our world is a trash producing culture. We are so embroiled with our sense of entitlement with modern amenities, packaging and wasting that we ignore how precious our resources are and why we throwing away things unnecessarily. We package and consume and we let the trash collectors worry about disposing our shame. After all, out of sight, out of mind is how the general populace approaches the issue of trash and just like everything else, out of mind means there is no problem; or is there?

According to a 2012 World Bank report, the world’s cities generate about 1.3 billion tons of solid waste per year. The World Bank expects this volume to increase to 2.2 billion tons per year by 2025. The cost is even more staggering: collectively the world spends roughly $200 billion per year on waste management but by 2025, that number is expected to reach close to $400 billion per year.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Look Out Chicago, The Koch Brothers Are at it Again by Lauren Campbell Kong

I have been reading a lot of press lately discussing the Koch brothers and their petroleum coke storing facility in Chicago. The situation is looking pretty bleak. Not only does this worry me for our environment, but I have good friends who live in Chicago. Now they and their families are at serious risk for asthma, cancer, and other adverse health effects. The Koch brothers, who own such companies as Oxbow, Koch Carbon, and KCBX an affiliate of Koch Carbon, (just to name a few) have single handedly effected thousands of individuals and exposed them to some of the dirtiest air imaginable.

Currently, petroleum coke which is a waste by-product of oil refining, is piling up along Chicago’s southeast side. Citizens of these Chicago neighborhoods have complained to the proper channels, but it seems that little is being done to give them immediate help. This comes as no surprise after the huge complaint Koch Carbon received from Detroit, MI citizens a couple of months ago. After two months of complaints, media frenzy, and a single cell phone video showing a huge, dark, billowing cloud of petroleum coke wafting through the air went viral, the Mayor of Detroit finally ordered the pet coke removed; the state Department of Environmental Quality is now doing a review on the impact of such large amounts of pet coke on citizens and the environment.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Chinese Dream

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter online about the “Chinese Dream” lately. Naturally, I have to question what exactly is this new Chinese dream other than just another shrewd attempt at propaganda?

China is famous for its slogans since the establishment of their new People’s Republic. Mao had his personal slogans; so did Deng Xiao Ping with his “Reform and Opening Up.” Jiang Ze Min had his “Three Represents” and thereafter Hu Jin Tao had “Scientific Development Outlooks.” Naturally, Xi’s new slogan did not surprise me, but there is something different. Xi’s slogan seems a bit more than just a slogan to inform; it is rather inspiring in an abstract and non-informative way!?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cleaning the Waterways of Ohio by Lauren Campbell Kong

It is amazing to me how diverse environmental activism is in Cincinnati. The topics are so different from that of Indiana; as I get situated in the Queen City I am starting to see different environmental issues plaguing the area and it has been quite the learning experience.

Located on the Ohio River, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have a huge clean water presence; Cincinnati actually leads the country in clean water technology and the tri-state area has more water patents per capita than any other area of the United States. The focus on how to approach these issues is much different than Indiana and their ongoing battle with the White River, the most polluted river in central Indiana. It has been refreshing to see a community interested in and involved with keeping the Ohio River clean. Granted it is the most polluted river in the country but the fact that it is so large and spans 5 coal states lends itself to that, regardless, people are educated on the topic and motivated to make a change. I’m sure this is correlated with the long history and culture of the Ohio River, providing commerce when the city was first settled, in addition to transportation for many people. Environmental landmarks influence our culture and thus how we perceive the environment, influencing what environmental concerns we address. People who live near bodies of water tend to be more environmentally aware of water issues, i.e. water pollution. They typically support such efforts to conserve, protect, and restore watersheds, rivers, lakes, and oceans more than people who do not grow up near such beautiful backdrops of water.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Environment Ohio: Getting involved - by Lauren Campbell Kong

Jin and I have finally settled into our new home and new location. Moving was tough for me, but what was hardest was finding organizations in the city that I could get involved in. In Indianapolis I was very active with the Sierra Club, specifically the Beyond Coal Campaign. When we arrived to Cincinnati I was surprised  that the Beyond Coal Campaign doesn't have a presence here; especially since Duke Energy’s headquarters do. But, after some digging and with due diligence, I finally found an organization: Environment Ohio (EO).


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Politics is a Double Edged Sword, Don't Let It Cut You Down - by Lauren Campbell Kong

Jin and I recently took a vacation due west, a 3 week long endeavor. We stopped and camped in as many parks as we could, marveled at the beauty that surrounded us, and took in sights that we have never before seen. I had never been to the northwest, so seeing the forest and conifers was on my bucket list. We spent a night in the Hoh Rainforest, a beautiful forest lush with moss and vegetation. It is so lush that life is layered throughout; moss is so thickly covered among the trees that they actually provide a ground network, a soil, for other land dwelling insects and small animals. Located in the Olympic National Park, it is a sight to be seen and an experience to be had.


Friday, September 13, 2013

The Chinese Brand

Yesterday, the Chinese government announced a plan to curb air pollution by limiting coal usage and taking some heavy polluting vehicles off the road. The new plan is a response to the steady stream of criticism of the country’s environmental problems; released by the State Council, the plan acknowledges some of the basic causes of the country’s air, water, and soil pollutions and sets out specific air quality goals by region. The plan also calls for the removal of all heavy polluting vehicles registered before the end of 2005. High standard gasoline and diesel vehicles will be provided in certain cities to help with the transition but the plan did not set targets for new vehicle emissions standards.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Reverse Innovation – why would a rich man want a poor man’s technology?

We have an unsustainable healthcare problem here in the United States. By now, it is common knowledge that we as a nation spend much more money on healthcare than any other developed nations; our return on investment compared to other developed nations is dismal. According to a 2012 study, the U.S. spends on average $8,233 per year per person on healthcare. This is close to three times more than most developed nations in the world, including rich European countries like France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. As a nation, the U.S. spends around 18% of our GDP on healthcare; this is twice the OECD members’ average.


But how do we stack up against the other 33 member nations of the OECD?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson


(We took a break from writing. I had graduated from law school in June and took two months to study for the bar. Lauren was preoccupied by our move from Indianapolis to Cincinnati and is trying to discover her ways in a new place amongst new friends. When I finally finished my three-day bar exam in August, we put everything on hold, tossed a few change of clothes in a trunk, and drove off with our dog Moe to explore the great American landscape. We drove from Cincinnati to Seattle, drove down the 101 highway along the Washington and Oregon Coast, cleared the Colorado mountains and through the straight ways of Kansas to come back home; we saw the Badlands, the Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Olympic National Park and its rain forest; we met with the Trees of Mystery and we stopped to savor the Garden of the Gods. Old friends were our destinations and they treated us to nostalgia we could not escape. Finally, we are back. 

Moe in Oregon
 I dreaded our return. I knew that once we came home, and have time to reflect on things, I would be forced to write about the mundane. I couldn’t decide what I would write, or that if I would write at all, and nothing seemed relevant to the last four years of our lives and nothing seemed important enough to be put into prearranged letters for you to ponder. In fact, after seeing much of the amazing places of this land of the free, I have come to realize that my words are insignificant. What is important is not what I have to say, but what I have learned. So fear is one thing and moving forward is another; although coexisting, they are mutually exclusive. For the fear of having nothing good to say, I reserved my words until now; but in order to grow and learn, I knew that I had to confront that fear and say something. What follows is my rant and rave so that I can get back into the swing of things. Please excuse the mess and enjoy the upsurge of my unsolicited doggerels. )

Friday, July 12, 2013

Green Travelism - Fair Marquit Value and Discovering What was Meant to be Seen

(Sam Marquit, author of Fair Marquit Value, recently contacted us offering to write a short post on eco tourism. Sam is an entrepreneurial independent contractor and a home renovation/remodeling expert in New York. He makes it a point to share with his readers a day in the life of sustainable building. Forecasting the possible application and implementation of new green building materials and technologies is just one small part of his effort to reduce everyone’s carbon footprint. For more of Sam's writings please visit his blog, Fair Marquit Value.

In addition, both Jin and I believe eco tourism is an important cog in the giant wheel of sustainability and we recognize the large impact it can have on the overall sustainability movement. After reading Sam's post, I was inspired to write about our own experience attempting to find the balance between traveling the world and saving it. I shared my piece below Sam's.  - Lauren)


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Path of Happiness and the Synthetic Chemical Street - by Lauren Campbell Kong

A few months ago I watched the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead by Joe Cross. In the documentary Joe doesn’t eat anything for 60 days. The only form of food that he consumes is juice from fresh fruits and vegetables (made by using a juicer); needless to say he lost around 80 lbs. In addition to losing weight, he had more energy than before, his skin looked better, his mood was brighter and above all his overall health was better than it had been in 20 years; he also suffered from a rare skin disorder which he had been combating by taking a prescription steroid, during his fast it began clearing up on its own, allowing him to stop taking the medication.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Big Thinkers - by Robin Cook

(As another collaborative work is in progress, today we bring you a piece written by Robin Cook from Finally Good News
Finally Good News is a blog that has a sole purpose of delivering good news to readers worldwide. Written and maintained by Robin Cook the blog intends to spread a little good, positiveness and sunshine into the hearts of all people.
We asked Robin to contribute on the topic of health and happiness and he wrote this specifically for us and we thank him for his efforts.)




Big Thinkers: Mary Roach and Andrew Weil on Holistic Health and Happiness


I'm a dedicated fan of online brands that expand personal horizons. So I confess to my shameless
love of, say, TED. I also enjoy Big Think, an online forum with a similar goal but more focused on the
short interview. In fact, my attitude is almost, well, religious.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Picking Up The Trash - By Perry J. Greenbaum

One of the greatest advances of humanity is the development of technology, which has advanced humanity in great ways. Most notable of these are the many advances in medicine in the last 100 years, each advance building on previous discoveries. Such is a good thing and has increased the health and wellness of humanity in general.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sabali, Patience.

Here we are. In the only world we’ve ever known; in the one and only precious life we were given to exist in this world. This one is for the people.

Scientists, doctors, psychologists, and experts; everyone wants to tell me what makes me healthy, what makes me happy. Everyone shakes the trees and waiting for the fruit to fall; everyone has a stake in the matter and everyone has their two cents in the story told. Everyone including me has a mind of our own, but where do we think we have original thoughts?

So I read, I listened, I sang the songs I don’t know because this one is for the people. I try to live in healthy ways, following the sage advice freely printed on pages so cheap that cost children their lives. I live happily, ignorant of the facts to be sold.

But the experts still can’t tell me how to save my soul, how to ignore the savages in villages, how to mask the living images of ribs of the little kids and dead body turn cold.

I hold my breath, my lips turned blue; I hold my pulse, my heart grows old.

I eat what the two dollar nutrition books tell me is good for my muscles; I drink water polluted with plastic bottles. I breathe the air from smoke stacks so build for the florescence lights in my home. I sank my feet into the ground so saturated with GMOs. I smile because anything else would be so uncivilized.

I follow instruction booklets and I build my life in pieces like an IKEA purchase; where do these screws go?

I dream, I fear, I enjoy what precious time I was given at the beginning of this journey. Along the way, I discovered that where I’ve started will be where I will be in the end—a life is a life given and taken, a life taken is a life granted with opportunity to seek that only thing which cannot be sold.

I held bodies that turned cold; I held souls from which warmth cannot be described. I grow old, my patience grows young. I live across lands, on different continents, discovering that we are all the same, all the wiser if we so chose.

“This goes to all the wisdom and knowledge seekers of the World

Sabali, Patience.”

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Broadening Perspectives - a collective work (Part II)

(At the beginning of 2013, The Green Elephant embarked on a journey to look for other bloggers to engage them on various green topics. Our first topic was on "Sustainability and Education" and you can read the articles here. Our second topic for the months of March and April is on Green Buildings and as usual, in our research we invariably touched on topics such as community building, innovation, zoning, urban agriculture, and other relevant topics. Our research is limited but we came to some common conclusions about growing a worthwhile city and shifting our paradigm of industrialization. If you wish to contribute to our work or want to suggest a topic, please contact Lauren at contact@brainboxltd.com.)





1.    How to Make Great, Green Cities: People, Water, and Streets - by Stephen Wade  

2.    Trash is the New Green - by Lauren Campbell-Kong 

3.    Zoning and Regulations - by Jin Kong 

4.    Zoning and Urban Agriculture - by Jin Kong


______________________________________________ 

How to Make Great, Green Cities: People, Water, and Streets
 - by Stephen Wade


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


Thursday, April 25, 2013

A New Addition to Indianapolis' Green Initiatives - Interview with Greg Watson

by Laure Campbell Kong

Greg Watson is the owner and developer of Green With Indy, Indianapolis’ first curbside composting program. Greg is a small business owner and is now branching out; he began Green With Indy in 2009 and added the composting component just 6 months ago.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Zoning and Urban Agriculture – A Case for Shifting to an Agrarian Society

Humanism, properly speaking, is not an abstract system, but a culture, the whole way in which we live, act, think, and feel. It is a kind of imaginatively balanced life lived out in a definite social tradition. And, in the concrete, we believe that this, the genuine humanism, was rooted in the agrarian life . . .

-- I'LL TAKE MY STAND, The Twelve Southerners

Urban agriculture has become popular these days.[1] The movement of growing our own food and raising our own farm animals has been embraced by locavors, foodies, hippies and anarchists alike. The reasons for urban agriculture’s increasing popularity are many: some advocates for relocalization of food production to reduce carbon footprints of food,[2] some think it’s about food safety and security,[3] some want to save money,[4] some believe it to be a patriotic duty,[5] some believe in food sovereignty thereby claiming a defiance of government regulations and embracing self-reliance as a virtue;[6] then there are people like me who enjoy the labor of growing something, the love for food and connecting with it on more intimate—and often muddy—terms, and the nostalgia for having helped my parents grow all sort of things as a kid.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How to Make Great, Green Cities: People, Water, and Streets - by Stephen Wade

(At the beginning of 2013, The Green Elephant - TGE - decided to embark on a journey; we decided to look for other bloggers and engage them on various green topics. We defy the new social media trend that less is more, that blogs are just the mundane. We wanted to inject wisdom and deep introspection into the new media culture. So we asked bloggers to write on topics we proposed and we asked them to cite to sources to direct our readers attention to proper knowledge. This is about learning and bringing joy to those who would want meaningful change. There are no empty slogans here, no fast remedies for our troubles. The articles are not meant to be something precise or linear; they are meant to be a composition in a work of art, to be used; the whole is meant to be more than its parts as interpreted by the reader, not the writer, and they are meant to be transformative in nature. So as I compile and edit them, I bring them to you individually, and at the end of every two months, as a whole. Stay tuned.

Today, we bring you a piece written by Stephen Wade of the 2nd Green Revolution. We asked him to contribute on the topic of green buildings; he wrote this specifically for us and we thank him for his efforts. You can learn more about Stephen on 2nd Green Revolution's Writers Spotlight.)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

How to Make Great, Green Cities: People, Water, and Streets
 - by Stephen Wade



What does it mean to be green? In the modern era, its meaning has evolved from Rachel Carson’s documentation of pollution in Silent Spring, Teddy Roosevelt and and John Muir’s founding of the National Parks, and Henry David Thoreau’s solitary musings in Walden to a more complex, integrated, consumption-based, and urban meaning exhibited by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, the emergence of the ecological footprint concept, and reports by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about creating equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities.

Simply put, New York City, once considered the antithesis of green, now has some of the lowest per capita energy consumption in the USA because of its extensive reliance on public transit.[1] If green is now analogous to urban, what are the elements that make for great urban places?


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Green Nontoxic Remodeling Ideas for Common Home Upgrades - Article by Anna Hackman, Editor of Green Talk

(This article was originally published on Green Talk. We told Anna about our new initiative seeking out green bloggers to collaborate on various topics and she happily forwarded this for us to post under our green buildings topic for the months of March and April. We also have another article by Stephen Wade of the 2nd Green Revolution on green cities coming your way. Cheers) 


Vintage Paint Cans We worry about the toxicity of our personal care products, pesticides in our food, and leaching of chemicals.  However, shouldn’t we be equally worried about the chemicals contained in the building products we install in our homes?

I am no stranger to writing about green building products.  Just to give you some background about me for those new to the site, hubby and I built an energy star house starting 2003 with a mission to source only low toxic or non-toxic materials.  Back in the early 2000s this was no easy feat.
Sourcing green building products has gotten so much easier.  To make your journey easier than mine, I did some legwork for you.   Listed below are some chemicals dos and don’ts for these common household upgrades.

Monday, April 15, 2013

On Happiness and Sustainability - Inglorious Bastards of My Writing

It's April. A few things happen around this time of the year: my birthday, a steady reminder that I'm getting older; tax-day, a not so friendly reminder of things to do and bills to pay; and remembering Tiananmen, a constant crack of my brain on the walls of my sublime hope that one day we will be free of transgressions against our own.  

In light of these dark and depressing things surrounding the time of the year, April is not all that bad. Grass is beginning to bud from the rain-soaked lands, flowers can be seen from a distant; the constant bird-songs in early mornings serve-up a reminder that summer will soon follow, women will show a lot of skin, and children will invariably get sun burned from hours and hours of soaking in the fun.

So this is a time to be happy as it is an inglorious bastard of my writing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

'Nough Said

"The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
The wise want love, and those who love want wisdom;
And all best things are thus confused to ill."

- Prometheus Unbound 

Alexis de Tocqueville once said that democracy is an equation which balances freedom and equality on each side of the calculation.

Yet power, a principle constant in the equation for democracy, expresses as the variables of the human heart, of the passion, of the struggle for freedom, of corruption, of hatred, and of much human evil, consents the weak who coerces the strong to their level—power “reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.”

Power, reduces nonviolence to the power of violence; it reduces the struggle of a spiritual means to badly composed anger and frustrations as graffiti on blighted walls. Power reduces the way of life meant for greater things to a struggle of physical means; it transforms the coercive power of the politics to the accepted fashionable norms that sells.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So Much of My Life Is Determined On Randomness

When I was young, my mother and I frequently traveled by train between Beijing and Lanzhou. The trip took more than two days and as reward for being quiet and on the promise of no tantrums, mom would always let me have the window seat. I treasured having a view to pass the boredom; it was the only means by which I could tolerate what felt like eternity.

I enjoyed watching farmers leaving their houses early in the morning, riding on the back of their water buffalo. Sometimes I would see children standing by the side of railroad, as close as they would dare, to catch a glimpse of the city folks roaring by on the strange locomotive.

Often, I was lost in the passing rural China. I wildly fantasized what it must’ve been like to live in a mud-hut. Occasionally I would focus my eyes on the dirt path next to the railroad to avoid my distant guilt for the inability to relate. As a five-year-old, I had no concepts of the rich and the poor, just enough to know that we lived in a building, had electricity and running water, while these folks had to walk a few miles to just get some water for the day.

Soon enough I learned that if I drop my eyes as close to the train as I could, and loose focus of my field of vision, life simply became a blur of lines: colorless, tasteless, and irrelevant. Yet when I blinked rapidly, I would see snapshots of the path underneath me, ever rock, every blade of grass, and every piece of the wooden rail-bed: full of color, patterns, and details... I would often imagine when there wasn’t a loud smoke belching locomotive roaring down at 60 miles per hour, children would walk by the railroad and pick up a rock to toss.

These days I avoid window seats on anything: airplanes, cars, and trains. I avoid having to relive the nostalgia for the fear of transporting my imagination. I fear the moment when I saw a rag-tag boy, picking his nose, snots crusted just above his lips, standing next to the railroad and wondering if he was going to be hungry that day...

These days, I drop my eyes close to my path, lost my focus, and rarely blink to catch the moments of details...

These days, I only dare to blink when I know there wasn’t a child staring back at my soul...


______________________________________
Late Night Fingerprints. - randomness from Jin

No matter how long, how high, how grim,
If I can sweep, nearly free, let my mind be tricked and story be told.
My life too precious, but it never leaves;
On solid ground, I let my words flow.
I am here, I am rotting, I am illness-stained;
I listen without pity, hear me not;
I bury without a shovel, smell of garbage, but it really don’t matter no more.
A different sound I hear, like milk and honey;
I asked myself if I am made for this world.
Golden roads, fixed, crumbled, fixed again,
A different taste, like spring freshness at the end of autumn;
Winter is here again, smelling and tasting cost the grown man his patience.
Play that song again, lock up them folks in the cells again;
But it really don’t matter no more.
All my life, cycles cooked onions in dreadful tears,
Cutting with a smile, square fits a few short years.
No matter how long, how high, how grim,
Let me sleep, nearly free, let my mind drift into the thicket plot untold.
Any day now, late night shadow remembers where the path leads.
Convince me to walk into the sun again,
The future is just that part of history.
Think sharp and preach slow,
Remembering but it don’t really matter no more.




Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Conversation on Human Rights











Conversations change the world. But the participants of those conversations must carry weight and speak with force and conviction.

Without either, the dialogue becomes chatter and empty in meaning.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Being and Becoming - Two Completely Different Things, Part II

(I've been plagued by the ideas of mere "being" distinguished from "becoming" in the recent years. This is a fundamental distinction in the ontology and metaphysics of different people; at one point I had envisioned this distinction being entirely cultural--that the west maintains a monotheistic and static "being" of an existence and the east maintains a more fluid and ever-changing "becoming" of an existence. Perhaps the distinction also traces itself to the religious undertones of east and west, or perhaps the distinction is attributed to the fundamental philosophical dominance in the perspective regions. We see this in the prevalent Kantian "Categorical Imperatives" maintaining that there is something immutable and universally true while the Chinese ideologies maintains that the only constant and universal truth is in the change itself and nothing in its form is so immutable as the suffering of that illusion. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Being and Becoming - Two Completely Different Things

Buddhism is about interconnectedness and spiritual struggle. According its teachings, the natural environment and sentient beings are inter-depended. Nature provides all living things with the means and methods to survive, whether it be killing another or grazing the lands. The Buddha teaches that human beings ought to fall into the latter category, that we do not have claws nor fangs and therefore ought to employ our talent of intelligence and sociability to survive.

Being human is thus being gentle in nature; but since we are sentient beings, we have a higher plane of existence from that of an ameba or lion. We therefore have a higher plane of responsibility to nature and the interdependence of nature. Our attitude towards our environment, our surroundings, thus invariably defines who we are as beings—either as that which is sentient or as that which is not. Therefore, our intelligence allows us the choice to be Intelligent, in a moral sense, in the totality of the planet’s circumstances.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Happify The Green Elephant

I don’t typically do product reviews. I also get a lot of emails asking if someone can place their advertising on our site The Green Elephant (dot) US; I usually send a short polite “NO” without a second thought.

My wife and I started on The Green Elephant to advocate for a change towards sustainability and we are not so much interested in making money or gaining a gazillion visitors just because we followed some fixed formula writing what people wanted to hear. So we write whatever we want, whenever we want. Our writings are scattered from cited educational pieces to rants and rambles at their best. Often times I inject my numinous appeals to a higher aesthetic order of things and invariably I use words loosely, inexactly, and without due consideration to the illusive categorical imperatives.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Zoning and LEED

The common approach in the United States to zoning is Euclidean zoning. It is named after a famous 1926 Supreme Court case, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., in which Ambler Realty Co. challenged the Village of Euclid’s zoning code.[1] The Village of Euclid is a suburb of Cleveland. The Village council had then adopted a comprehensive zoning plan to regulate and restrict land use. The plan divided the area into different classes of use and Ambler Realty Co., challenged the enforcement of these zoning regulations on the ground that the enforcement would constitute as an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty and property without due process.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Finding Warmth in a Cold Cold Place

(I've been on a mental break. There has been a lot going on in our lives lately as we come to an age where families are slowly passing and we are emerging from our immortal twenty-something to our surreal mid-thirties. My life's obligations these days are compounding to make my story telling mute. At the same time, I've been thinking a lot about my one and precious life; how amazing it is and how much of a journey it has been. I had came from the other side of the planet, traveled all over the world to see wars ravage other families; and now, finally settling down to a mundane and comfortable gravity of an existence, I sometimes wonder if I will become just another schmuck pushing paper around during the day and dream of being a superhero at night. Sometimes I let pessimism get the best of me. In those dark and cold places, I find my wife smiling, pretending to be Wolverine and Storm from the X-Men, at the same time, dancing around to cheer me up, to light me on fire; she tries so hard to do anything to bring me out of this funk. And to her credit, she succeeds in reminding me that abominable reality of "tomorrow"--that whatever it is I must do on this earth, there is a tomorrow to look to for its warmth.

And there is a story behind that abominable reality of "tomorrow"; it starts with a mountain on a place and ends with something beautiful.)

Heart Mountain once housed incarcerated Japanese Americans during WWII. Their property was taken, freedom impeded, dignity buried beneath suspicion and fear. A museum stands on its grounds 70 years later, reminding us to learn from our prejudiced histories. You would think we are all the wiser, able to distinguish fear and suspicion from the innocent; but today, we shun from Muslims and we forbid Arabic architects from ever associating with the symbol that ought to represent peace and good will towards the Islamic world. How much have we learned from Heart Mountain?

Asking if injustice like Heart Mountain could happen again ignores the fact that Heart Mountains are all around us. No one seems to escape, all so imprisoned.

The prisoners are imprisoned by the guards, and the guards are imprisoned by their own ignorance; no one escapes the cold cold places of evil hearts. Heart Mountain is happening often and we either don’t see the bars of our prisons for what it is or else we chose to ignore its presence. In so doing we are all so ignorant.

November 2005.

It had been a busy morning; a few soldiers came to the aid-station that day for diarrhea and severe dehydration. They probably had some “Mujdat’s” dinner specials the night before; the deliciously grilled half-rotten lamb cleverly disguised by the heavy spices was wrapped in stone-oven baked bread; all so especially tempting to many young brave and foolish ones.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Life without music is a mistake


Sometimes gravity holds you down,
close to the ground.
Sometimes you get well-adjusted and you drown;
the voices of the suffering without sound.











Lauren and I went to a concert last night; the music was good, it was exactly what we needed—a good dose of reality in its joyfulness that everything else seem less relevant. We danced a bit; I think Lauren was even bumping at one point to the music. It was a good night and we needed the relaxation.

It had been a few years since we actually went to a concert. The last one was probably Tom Petty before we got married. Being in the crowd and listening, watching, and smelling a live show brought back memories. There was a time when I enjoyed life; I went to shows, rode around on my bicycle and took pictures. My life was plentiful; now it’s more of a burden. Since I started law school, I am plagued by the thought of the next case law or the next issue; I hadn’t thought about the souls of this earth and I haven’t searched for music in a long time.

So I woke up this morning, plugged into the searching Interweb; I found me some tunes.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Touring the LEED Platium Certified Nature Conservancy Building - by Lauren Campbell


Earlier this week I had the wonderful opportunity to tour the Indiana’s Nature Conservancy headquarters. A friend was going and asked if I wanted to tag along; touring buildings isn’t something that I typically do in my spare time, but the Indiana State Nature Conservancy building is a site to behold.

The building is LEED Platinum certified (a wonderful thing in and of itself); however, this particular building, which achieved 56 points (52 are required for LEED Platinum certification), now has the highest point total recorded by any project in the State of Indiana.

It is quite the achievement.

When walking into the Nature Conservancy (NC), the front entrance is completely landscaped with plants native to Indiana and designed for maximum storm-water management; this includes the front walkway, which is made up of local Indiana limestone (one of our biggest commodities), leading people into a beautiful entry way.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Where the Sidewalk Ends

(I apologize for bringing you unoriginal thoughts, but I felt this poem could remind us of the heart we once knew--before we became adults, before we became unaware of the places, before we got too busy to look beyond the possible. Those were the days we believed in miracles; dragons were fought with a mighty thought; and skies were blue, the air fresh, grass tickled beneath our feet, and we the magic bean buyers reached for giants in the sky. Let us not forget to invite ourselves back into the forest and sit by our fires, where we can tell tales of how we are to believe in our tomorrows.)

Where the Sidewalk Ends, a poem by Shel Silverstein


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trash is the New Green-by Lauren Campbell-Kong

Green building has been a growing industry for the past ten years and many companies and organizations recognize the long term benefits, ranging from environmental to health to financial benefits. Business buildings also have one of the largest environmental impacts on our planet, destroying green space and creating heat island effects where they are built. They account for 70% of electricity use in the United States, 40% of all energy use and generate 39% of all GHG emissions.[1]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

So You Wanna Change the World?


(This is a belated Valentine's Day wish to my wife, Lauren Campbell Kong)

My wife gets rather frustrated when she volunteers for well intended organizations fighting for environmentalism and conservations. I can see her hair turning gray in real time faster than grass can grow in the spring. I try to do my best to help her through those rough times; mostly I can explain away the organizational inefficiencies by some magic of bureaucracy in place. But often I question if there is somewhere, out there, for her to feel at home; if there is somewhere in the world where she can comfortably grow her interest in helping make a difference in real and meaningful ways--not jut perpetuate some empty slogans and check off a box for another successful campaign unsuccessfully exhausted.

I can't blame her. Her interest is in behavioral changes and paradigm shifts. She will have me to blame for the latter philosophical bout; but as for behavioral changes, that is entirely her own ambition.

But changing behaviors isn't easy. It starts with someone caring and then another influenced. It's a communal event that transcends mere campaign efforts and mobilization of people with picket signs. From those behavioral changes, we see a fundamental shift in understanding; from there, with baby steps, we can hope for positive policy decisions in the long run. It's a very slow process; it involves a lot of upfront investment and compassion. Often well-meaning organizations lack both; they have so little resources to achieve and so little compassion to care for the broader systemic problems we face as individuals.  These organizations are about funding, membership, measurable impacts, and achieving bigger and bigger goals while ignoring the ever smaller and smaller individual.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stupidity in Disguise

Dan Stone of the National Geographic Magazine recently wrote an article titled: Does China Have the Ingenuity to Solve Environmental Problems?

In his article, Mr. Stone claims that he is not too worried about all of the environmental ills we face because as he sees it: “the worse things get, the more incentive there is for some innovator to figure out a solution.”

To support his theory, Stone cites to one Chinese millionaire, Chen GuangBiao, who recently decided to sell “cans of clean air” for 5Yuan (about 80 cents) per can. Glorifying the "can of air" idea as ingenious, Stone names only a few drawbacks in passing: it’s not compressed air, so it does not deliver more than three solid breaths; it’s not the purest air so what you are buying will not reverse the impact of breathing in years of thick pollution; and the costs of producing cans and shipping them produces even more pollutions.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 State of Green Business Report - "Profound Changes"

On Tuesday, GreenBiz.com released its sixth annual State of Green Business report. Unlike previous years, GreenBiz partnered with Trucost this year in composing this report. Trucost is a research firm focused on natural capital and sustainability metrics; together, they released the State of Green Business report with revamped indicators by which industry sustainable progress was assessed. GreenBiz claims that their new metrics are more comprehensive and are global in scope; and in its vigor, GreenBiz and Trucost considered companies’ natural capital costs, supply-chain impacts, and various measures of transparency and disclosure amongst other things.

In its release, the report noted a significant shift in the state of business in terms of sustainability. In a world of increased natural disasters, the report noted this year that business as usual simply isn’t sustainable anymore: floods in Thailand can cut off global supplies of computer disk drives for the good part of the year; record-low water level on the Mississippi can choke flow of commerce; and who can forget that a super storm can shut off the world’s financial center for weeks. In fairness, the report asks rhetorically:

“In that context, how should a company view climate change, renewable energy and resource efficiency? How should its shareholders view risk and resilience as it relates to the surety of their investments? And how should communities assess the responsibility of companies within their regions, in terms of the fair appropriation of local resources when they become scarce?”

The report notes that “sustainability” in light of our newly confronted challenges, takes on a new, poignant meaning: that it is now perhaps pressingly about aligning economics, environmental and social interests; and even more importantly is about taking on a strategic importance, linked to reducing supply-chain risk, thus ensuring business continuity during disruptions, continuing to operate in resource-stressed areas, maintaining reliable and cost-efficient energy supplies, and ensuring brand value and reputation continue in an ever more unpredictable and demanding global economy.

In this new sink-or-swim “sustainability” environment, businesses have to go well beyond the glamorous notion of “corporate responsibility” and “eco-efficiency.” In this new climate of business sustainability, companies have to view incrementalism as insufficient, ignorance as unacceptable, and unpredictability as the new norm. Under these circumstances, the report notes, our “old” rationale of corporate sustainable developments hasn’t gone away—“companies are still harnessing sustainability to cut costs, improve quality, engage employees, and all the rest—but the world of sustainable business made some slight but profound shifts in 2012.”

“As the global economy sputtered back to life, companies began to link their sustainability strategy to critical business activities. Today’s rationale might sound something like this: We do these things to insulate ourselves from turbulent times, adhere to customer requirements, ensure that communities where we operate will welcome us, and protect our reputation. They help us be resilient and ensure our survival amid disruptions.”

The report notes these profound shifts in ten important trends:

1. Natural Capital

With the Rio+20’s focus on natural capital, culminating with the signing of a Natural Capital Declaration by 39 global financial institutions — primarily from Europe and South America, but no major U.S. banks, we note that integrating natural capital isn’t just about buzz word campaigns. Rather, the underlying principles of natural capital include the idea that one species’ waste is another species’ food; that materials cycle endlessly through the web of life; that species live off current solar “income”; that resilience comes from diversity; and that everything is interconnected. Each of these can be translated into everyday business practices, as well as overall strategy—more than just a mere goodwill PR initiative.

2. Risk and Resilience

Given the recent super storms and natural disasters, risk and resilience are increasingly being added to companies’ sustainability vocabulary. And it’s not just the weather that is pressing this issue. Risk and resilience issues also surface from investor communities, from socially responsible investors to mainstream pension funds and university endowments, Wall Street stock analysts, and the regulatory agencies that oversee publicly traded companies. Increasingly, everyone is asking tough questions about resource constraints related to the availability of energy, water, and other resources; where the toxicity of products or manufacturing processes present perils all the way up the supply chain; and where climate shifts can disrupt the availability of raw materials and threaten the well-being of employees and customers.

3. Integrated Corporate Reporting

While freestanding sustainability reports have the preferred outreach by companies in the past, most of these reports haven’t been all that helpful. They contain too much information that is feel-good, extraneous to evaluating a company’s sustainability impacts and risks. Forward looking companies will see integrated reporting as an opportunity to communicate on and implement sustainable strategies and create value for shareholders over the long term while contributing to a sustainable society.

4. The Sharing Economy

In recent years, we saw an increase in popularity the sharing-economy business model based on providing access to goods and services rather than their outright ownership. This is done often through peer-to-peer networks. Think Zipcar and the likes, these companies are enabled by technology trends as well as some societal ones. Some incumbents are putting up fights, though, as they see potential loss of business. For example, taxi regulators in some U.S. cities want to shut down Uber, a mobile car-service start-up that enables people to find a black limo car ride simply by pressing a button on a mobile app. GPS-equipped drivers enable riders to see which car will pick them up and see exactly where that car is. While the incumbents may win in courts in the short run, but with increasing popularity and other market forces, it may be time for them to face the music.

5. Relocated Commerce

Dystopian of urbanization is becoming more apparent as we find big-box stores and fast-food chains practically wherever we travel around the planet. The consumers are pushing back. A confluence of forces is reversing these industrial trends. We find more often people are willing to revitalize local commerce and communities. There are growing networks to support local sustainability-minded businesses whose principal goal is to promote locally owned commerce. This transition is not just about building some sort of utopia; it’s more pragmatic, linked to risk and resilience in an age of uncertain climate and economic trends. Relocalization is seen as a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture. The main goals are to increase community energy security, to strengthen local economies, and to improve environmental conditions and social equity.

6. Machine 2 Machines Communication

We are seeing a rapid growth in machine to machine (M2M) communication technology. The report estimates 10 billion connected devices worldwide, while there are only 2.5 billion web-connected PC and phones. M2M is a key technology in managing consumption of electricity in response to supply conditions and demand response systems are critical to smart grids. M2M in effect improves efficiency, reliability, and economics of energy use. M2M can also help improve efficiency in everything from agriculture to health care to supply chains to traffic flow.

7. Sustainability and App Craziness

The has been a bloom of apps mirroring other technology trends: the sharing economy, the smart grid, machine-to-machine communications. The culmination is about data, Big Data: informing our decisions about how to achieve the most with the least while addressing everyone’s needs. But this isn’t just about automation or data collection, it’s also about innovation and collaboration. We are seeing a growing number of “hackathons” — where computer programmers, graphic designers, user-interface experts and others collaborate on software projects. Hackathons are being sponsored by cities, nonprofits and for-profits, and tend to have a specific focus. Some have sustainability as a key driver.

8. Materiality

There is growing trend that sustainability is being viewed by businesses, industries, and the legal community as material. Greenhouse gas emissions, toxic ingredients in products, and reliable access to water, energy, and raw materials are increasingly seen as material risk factors that warrant scrutiny by regulators. In 2010, the SEC issued guidance regarding companies’ responsibility to disclose material risks related to climate change. This placed sustainability directly into the realm of financial risk management, expanding the CFO’s role in ways that would have been hard to imagine even a few years ago.

9. Looking Pass the Goal

The report also noted a steady stream of companies trumpeting their over-achievements in recent years. While some companies set bold, audacious goals, when they have no clue as to how to achieve them; other companies are working with tenable objectives and methodologies and are achieving and accelerating. There seem to be something in the midst

10. Corporate Progress

And as sustainability becomes increasingly integrated into the corporate operations, companies are using designated sustainability officers less. Rather, sustainability has increasingly become the responsibility of all level of corporate stakeholders, from workers to managers to stockholders. On some level, this is cause to celebrate as sustainability is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Monday, February 11, 2013

This Is What Insanity Looks Like

Scentless poisons
and fractured hearts,
Indulge your tasteless fragrance
while everything falls apart.
You trap yourself in this fume,
You remove yourself into your wealth
beyond your gloom.
The poor suffer
while you pretend your do not see,
The young are dying
while you pretend you do not hear;
It is your world of a fantasy,
With padded walls of your own fallacy.

You are no longer human, 
Just a toy, 
a hamster on a wheel; 
In the end, you are just crazy.

__________________________________________________

Recently Beijing’s air reached dangerous levels. On January 12, just a month before the Chinese New Year, Beijing saw a reading of 755 on the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is based on the recently revised US EPA standards measuring fine particle pollutions; it codes ranges of pollution to tell the public just how dangerous the air is.

According to the AQI, an index value of 0-50 means the air quality is good; from 51-100 means the air quality is moderate; 101-150 means the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as the very young and the elderly; 151-200 means the air is unhealthy and 201-300 means the air is very unhealthy; and finally, the index categorizes a reading between 301 – 500 as hazardous for everyone meaning that in a given 24 hour period, the air is measuring at a level of 301 to 500 microgram of fine particles per cubic meter (μg/m3, 24-hour average) and is detrimental to everyone’s health.

I’m not sure what category is beyond “hazardous” on the AQI but the word “lethal” comes to mind. As an Economist journalist living in Beijing puts this in further perspective for us:

“Apart from the AQI readings above 700, we were quite struck to see the readings for the smallest and most dangerous sort of particulate matter, called PM 2.5, which can enter deep into the respiratory system. These are named for the size, in microns, of the particles. A reading at a controversial monitoring station run by the American embassy showed a PM 2.5 level of 886 micrograms per cubic metre; Beijing’s own municipal monitoring centre acknowledged readings in excess of 700 micrograms.

For perspective on that set of figures, consider that the guideline values set by the World Health Organisation regard any air with more than 25 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic metre as being of unacceptable quality.”

Fast forward to Chinese New Year’s Eve, February 9, 2013. As usual, my wife and I traveled to Cincinnati to gather with my parents and my brother. We sat around all day to eat dumplings, fish with eyes, and many other delicious food my parents conjured up. We then corralled, mostly in an idle vegetative state, and we glued our attention to New Year’s celebration on TV curtsey of CCTV. I had grown up in Beijing during the 80s; one of our family’s favorite past times was watching the celebration on TV and at midnight, we would go outside and light up as many firecrackers and fireworks as possible to celebrate the passing of another lunar year. Since we moved the US, we gave up on our fireworks, but we still manage to watch other Chinese people, via satellite TV, go about their usual celebratory business and light up the Chinese skies with various luminous extravagances.

This year, due to the exceedingly bad air quality, many environmentalists came out on TV to protest the tradition. There is weight in their criticisms: Proportionally, for every 270 grams of black powder used, 132 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) are created. The ratio of CO2 emission per volume used is then 0.4889 (132/270).

I’ve not yet found any numbers suggesting the total volume of fireworks set off during recent Chinese New Year’s celebrations, but I’m sure it’s an astronomical number. Global Times has documented the environmental impacts from 2012:  

"After an hours-long fireworks spree on the eve of the Lunar New Year in 2012, the density of PM2.5 increased sharply to 1,593 micrograms per cubic meter at one downtown monitoring station, or 1.5 times higher than this year's most polluted day in Beijing."

The debate on fireworks is a bitterly divided one in China. As one Beijing CCTV journalist pointed out that setting off fireworks is a folk tradition that goes back thousands of years (dating to 200BC). Even though Beijing has put out a fireworks ban for 15 days leading up to the New Year ’s Day, many children and adults alike will likely find a way to set off a few and welcome the new year. I can’t blame them. If I were still living in Beijing, I would be so wrapped up in the coming of a new year that I would cherish the rebellious spirit upon hearing firecrackers going off in some remote places of the Beijing streets.

But I would feel perversely guilty. After all, the government is trying to do what it can but it’s the individuals that must do more. And while it’s a balancing act to retain the tradition of celebration with modern anxieties, it is more of a quest for pertinence to educate the individuals so that they are making the right choices. This matter goes beyond fireworks and New Year’s celebrations; it goes beyond just few days of indulgence. What about the cars on the road in Beijing that are spewing noxious gases? What about the heavy dependencies on coal and other polluting energy productions? What about the idea that getting rich is good no matter what the cost?

Tienanmen Square Jumbo Screen Displaying Clear Skies
In many ways, the Chinese people brought this onto themselves and this is not just about fireworks; the government blindly allowed this to happen with its liberal market force policies: developments, consumptions, heavy industries, and yes, even providing a false sense of security.

A while ago, I wrote an article (published by the European Journal of Law Reforms) on how it is that China can curb its problems. The article focused on China and its many environmental and social problems, but the main focus of the article was a call to understanding—that the Chinese people must be the ones to undertake the responsibility to cure China of its ills. The sparseness of legal enforcements in China is not due to some inherent government failure; the corruption is not due to some systemic problems in government. Rather the people allows it, cherishes it, and above all, strives to be the one who will break the law, be the corrupt official, and make a billion in the process of their ascend to the pit of human indignity.

"In other words, this is what civilization is, destroying life while creating a toxic mimic of life and then worshiping its creations."  - Generation Alpha friend Premadasi (curtsey of facebook).

To this I say: this is what civilization has become, but not what it is necessarily doomed to repeat; civilization is defined on the ground that virtues and formalities of humankind is what makes a person a Person; Personhood then cures the ills of laws of nations; the process of curing those laws will lead a People to its morals; and it is upon those morals can a nation build and govern--仁 礼 誠 人 | 人 必 治 法 | 法 修 其 德 | 德 必 治 國.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

EPA Releases Report on Smart-Growth, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Developments

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a one of a kind sustainability report promoting fair treatment and meaningful involvement of low-income, minority and tribal communities to encourage smart-growth, people-focused community building, and place-focused economic development strategies.

The report cites three pillars of its approach: environmental justice, smart growth, and equitable development.




Environmental Justice

Approaching environmental justice, the EPA reiterates its policy that “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, or commercial operations and policies.” [1] The EPA also resonates the idea that the “public should have opportunities to participate in decisions that could affect their environment and their health, their contributions should be taken into account by regulatory agencies, and decision-makers should seek and facilitate the engagement of those potentially affected by their decisions.”[2]

Under the authorities of Executive Order 12898 and the EPA’s Plan EJ 2014, the Agency’s overarching strategy for advancing environmental justice, the EPA together with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and 17 other federal agencies, are working with community stakeholders to develop and implement environmental justice strategies. Together, they aim to strengthen community access to federal resources, integrate environmental justice into programs, policies, and activities across the federal government.[3]

Smart Growth 

Under Smart Growth, the report describes how low-income, minority, and tribal communities can employ strategies to clean up and reinvest in existing neighborhoods; provide affordable housing and transportation; and improve access to jobs, services, parks and stores. It also provides practitioners with concrete ideas on how they can better meet the needs of low-income residents as they promote development or redevelopment in underserved communities. To this end, the report enumerates 10 Smart Growth principles[4] based on the experiences of communities around the country:

  • Mix land use: by mixing housing, shops, offices, schools, and other compatible land use in the same community, the residents are able to walk, bike, or take public transit thus drive shorter distances and lowering their transportation costs; (according to the report, low-income areas and underprivileged individuals tend to spend a larger portion of their income on transportation—up to 30%, as opposed to privileged and wealthy individuals who may spend only 9% of their income on transportation); 
  • Compact building design: green and compact building design principles preserves open space and uses land and resources in efficient and effective ways to create communities that are transit friendly, reduces pollution thus improving water quality, and encourage healthier lifestyles;
  • Affordable housing and range of housing opportunities: by providing quality and affordable housing options in new and re-development communities, people of all income levels, household size, and stages of life will be able to live near jobs, public transit, and services thus encourages inclusion and diversity, promotes new opportunities, and allows for innovation to occur naturally;
  • Walkable communities: increasing walkability of communities encourages active lifestyles, reduces transportation cost and pollution, and helps reduce obesity, diabetes, and other preventable diseases;
  • Strong sense of community: preservation of community history and culture encourages economic vitality and long-term sustainment of quality of life;
  • Open-space, farm-land, natural landscape, and critical environmental areas: preserving these types of natural and working lands support land-based economy that are critical for regional and national economies; the vegetation in these natural areas also helps protect environmental public health by filtering pollutants from the air and water;
  • Direct development in existing communities: by investing in communities that are blighted, investing dollars will go to addressing environmental and health hazards in the most critical areas; it will also bring new jobs and services for residents while conserving investment by utilizing already existing infrastructure;
  • Variety of transportation choices: by building a balanced transportation system that incorporates different means of travel—buses, rail, walkways, bike lanes, and carpool lanes—residents will have more options for getting around; this will encourage responsible behavior and reduce air pollution as well as related health problems; this will also increase mobility for low-income individuals thus providing more job and service opportunities;
  • Predicable, fair, and cost effective development decisions: by making development processes clear and by working with the private sector and all stakeholders, municipalities can make smart growth economically viable and attractive to private investors and developers;
  • Stakeholder collaboration: by encouraging all stakeholders to participate in the decision making process, development will create great places to live and work, thus increase a community’s sense of ownership and empowerment; this will invariably lead to smarter growth patterns from both the private and the public sector; involving all stakeholders will also encourage inclusive innovation, and by involving all parties early, the implemented innovation will have a better chance of succeeding according to the community’s vision and goals.
Equitable Development 

The EPA report vitalizes the idea that development should be about creating healthy, vibrant, and sustainable communities where residents of all incomes, races, and ethnicities have access to opportunities, services, and amenities they need to thrive. The strategic focus is on helping low income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities participate in and benefit from decisions that shape their neighborhoods and regions.[5]

The concept of equitable development is a culmination of environmental justice and smart growth: it emphasizes that everyone should be protected from environmental hazards and be able to enjoy equal access to environmental, health, economic, and social necessities such as clean air and water, adequate infrastructure, jobs, and involvement in decision-making. Equitable development incorporates people-focused strategies with placed-focused strategies. People-focused efforts are centered around supporting and empowering residents of a community within the context of their own; there is an emphasis on job training and placement, business development, homeless initiatives, education, health, and wellness programs, financial literacy programs, and revitalization efforts taken by the residents. Place-focused efforts focus on stabilizing and improving infrastructure and environment, developing fair housing initiatives, and initiating pollution cleanups to reduce economic disparities, bring new opportunities, and improve the overall quality of life. Equitable development also calls for a regional perspective in order to reduce health and economic inequalities and improve outcomes for low-income communities while building healthy urban regions.

More Details 

The report also notes some of the challenges and sets out some case studies around the country showcasing their success. These case studies include:
  • designing safe streets for all users
  • cleaning and reusing contaminated properties
  • reducing exposure to facilities with potential environmental concerns
  • fixing existing infrastructure before investing in new projects
  • preserving affordable housing
I highly encourage you to read through the report if you have the time. Otherwise, we will be addressing some of the issues in this report in the future posts. So sign up to follow this blog and stay tuned.

More information about the report: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/equitable_development_report.htm

More information about the Office of Environmental Justice: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice

More information about the Office of Sustainable Communities: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth


_____________________________

[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Justice, available at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/ej.

[2] Id.

[3] Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898, (EJ MOU), available at http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/publications/interagency/ej-mou-2011-08.pdf.

[4] Smart Growth Network, Why Smart Growth? available at http://www.smartgrowth.org/why.php.

[5] PolicyLink, Equitable Development Toolkit, available at http://www.policylink.org/site/c.lkIXLbMNJrE/b.5136575/k.39A1/Equitable_Development_Toolkit.htm.




Monday, February 4, 2013

Education and Fairness, Fear the Possible

We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends.

--Aldous (Leonard) Huxley, Literature and Science (1963)

Thomas Kuhn once famously said that science is shaped by the prevailing values and norms in specific social and historical contexts.[1] We’ve experienced momentous scientific progress in the last few decades. We put men on the moon and machines on Mars; we cured incurable diseases and we catapulted ourselves into the modern age with the advent of industrial and informational revolutions. Yet our prevailing values and norms seem blind. We march forward with our air polluted, water contaminated, and land depleted. Now, we sit quietly waiting for the world to end; we sit silent waiting for our children to carry the burden.

What selfish creatures are we?

One educator and scholar noted this phenomenon in her quest for better environmental education (EE). Ms. Anna Gahl Cole in her 2007 article wrote: “environmental education is traditionally found in schools as an add-on to science curriculum . . . [and in order] for my students to understand environmental processes and systems, we had to first come to terms with the human histories that contextualize, shape, and define those systems.” To do this, and thus allowing us to define problems in our environmental educations, Ms. Cole reasoned that we must employ “alternative methodologies and ways of understanding how people experience and understand their environment.”[2]

In response to this call for alternative methodologies through multidisciplinary lenses of critical pedagogy, Ms. Cole pleas for a revisit to the environmental justice movement and place-based education. This is to put emphasis on localized and relevant educations that will make impacts in children’s lives as opposed to creating an irreconcilable difference between teaching children mere science yet giving them the prevailing norms that have done us harm in the first place.

With that in mind, we shift our focus on environmental education. We note that while traditional EE programs develop understanding of the environment through science, inspire individuals to take personal responsibility for environmental preservation and restoration, and solicit collective responses to shift policy decisions, environmental justice education (EJE) fosters a critical understanding of the environment within the context of human political and social actions thereby making science based education, and the policy decision making process based on that education, meaningful to the locality.

Under EJE initiatives, educators thus have a unique role in coaching environmental justice to students as relevant to their locality thus empowering them to act accordingly and intrinsically. Mere EE programs often create the dichotomy of us/them phenomenon, making students in poor and depleted areas feel what they have learned is irrelevant to their circumstances, thus making their pro environmental actions extrinsic to their education and motivation. This is because they have not been taught to see environmental impacts with their own conditions; they have not been taught environmental justice as relevant to them locally and how it is related globally. Yet some of the areas most impacted by environmental and social injustice are the same ones requiring the most policy shift towards sustainable goals; and by empowering students who live in these areas of both environmental and social injustice, the educators’ aim is to build strong communities of resistance and planning to change our current market models that depletes and exploits, thus avoiding problem shifting perpetuating the same knotty prevailing social and value norms to some other less privileged place.

The objective under the EJE model, therefore, is to empower students to understand and exercise their own individual rights in relation to their global community; the notion of environmental justice, then, must be incorporated into the curriculum and embedded into the wider scientific literacy programs so encapsulates the environmental studies. In essence, educators have to educate students of environmental progress and justice that it is their right to have access to open space, clean air and water, nutritious food as opposed to making them believe they’re supposed to be living with only a small park with a basketball court with no nets and fast food around the corner. Educators will have to stop convincing them that the only way to escape their condition is to accept the prevailing social and value norms so indoctrinated into their scientific programs and get ahead by any means necessary. Educators have to convince them that they have to take up ownership in their own environments and make a difference for themselves in meaningful ways in the greater context of global scarcity. More importantly, educators will have to convince their students to see the injustice done in relation to the interconnectedness of their conditions, avail themselves to the veil of ignorance and emerge with a fresh perspective of what is to be undone. Failing to do so, we would simply shift the problems around; one area’s pollution is migrated to the next poorer neighborhood and one country’s over consumption and human injustice shifted to the next country’s developing complications.

The EJE model thus requires both a scientific literacy as well as an embedded social literacy. Scientific literacy is the “knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision-making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity."[3] Social literacy involves the need to focus on the living process of a community in context of the broader global development incentives. To put it simply: “think globally and act locally”; the educators must help students investigate their social context, local issues of injustice, impacts of developments and modernization—essentially incorporating the issue of environment, human rights, and economic incentives into one fundamentally sound EJE curriculum within the global context.

Something else to consider: EJE model is not only urgently required in poorer neighborhoods, but is also immediately necessary in the apparently rich and well-to-do areas. Often times we forget that individuals, and even small communities, are not aware of their conditions and relative disadvantage at the hands of global over consumption and over development. Living in a million dollar home does not immunize one from polluted air blown from neighboring areas and having a higher standard of living does not prevent global scarcity issues from reaching into their water supplies. At the end of the day, whether rich or poor, we all seem to face the same set of global problems distributed unevenly into disparate communities. John Rawls[4] noted this in his discourse on “Justice as Fairness” that as the result of our original position, we are behind a “veil of ignorance” and are completely unaware of our relative status among peers. Thus no individual has the distinct advantage in establishing the requisite principles of “justice”; and since everyone lacks the relative advantage, the few malintended individuals are able to establish norms and prevailing values behind such veil without ever acknowledging the effect.

EJE is therefore a globally required model and ought to be introduced locally with a keen eye on the complexity of our modern societies. Everyone is obligated to undertake this task and unveil their own ignorance. To proceed, we are reminded by the Dalai Lama that

“We have to think and see how we can fundamentally change our education system so that we can train people to develop warm-heartedness early on in order to create a healthier society. I don’t mean we need to change the whole system, just improve it. We need to encourage an understanding that inner peace comes from relying on human values like, love, compassion, tolerance and honesty, and that peace in the world relies on individuals finding inner peace. The power of the environmental justice movement lies in grassroots neighborhood organizations that have worked for change. Therefore, a focus of this work is empowering individuals in urban environments to build communities that stand for environmental justice.”












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[1] THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS, University of Chicago Press; 3rd edition (December 15, 1996).

[2] Cole, A. G., Expanding the Field: Revisiting Environmental Education Principles Through Multidisciplinary Frameworks, 38.2 The Journal of Environmental Education 35-44 (2007).

[3] National Academy of Sciences, 2007, para. 14.

[4] See COLLECTED PAPERS: JOHN RAWLS (Samuel Freeman ed., 1999).



Other resources:

The US EPA defines environmental justice as

“fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, culture, education, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”



The EPA further defines “fair treatment” to mean that “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies”; and “meaningful involvement” to mean that “people have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health; the public’s contribution can influence the regulatory agency’s decision; their concerns will be considered in the decision making process; and the decision makers seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.”

The first national study on environmental racism was published by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice in 1987 titled: “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” The study provided data that matched waste facility sites to demographics demonstrating a strong pattern of environmental racism. (Environmental racism “refers to any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages--whether intended or unintended--individuals, groups, or communities because of their race or color.”)

Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-income Populations" (2/94) requires certain federal agencies, including HUD, to consider how federally-assisted projects may have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations.

The Department of Education’s draft on Environmental Justice (EJ) strategy focuses on healthy learning environments for students, energy-efficient school facilities, sustainability education and environmental literacy, and energy efficiency in the Department’s facilities. This draft EJ strategy is the Department’s plan to address environmental justice concerns and increase access to environmental benefits through the Department’s policies, programs, and activities. The Department is committed to meeting the goals of Executive Order 12898, and in August of 2011, several federal agencies signed the “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU), which committed each agency to, among other things, finalizing an EJ strategy and releasing annual implementation reports.